CN ups ante for Open

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

Dawn Coe-Jones says professional golfers look at three things before deciding where they will play.

She believes the 2006 CN Canadian Women's Open at London Hunt and Country Club has all three.

"(Players) look at purse, we look at travel and venue," said the three-time tournament winner on the LPGA tour. "Canada now has all three."

Coe-Jones was part of a conference call announcing CN, the sponsor of the 2006 Canadian women's open championship, had boosted the total purse for the event from $1.3 million to $1.7 million US. The purse moves into the top 10 on the LPGA Tour.

The tournament will run Aug. 7-13.

The $400,000 added to the purse is a much-welcomed infusion of cash to attract top golfers. The Bank of Montreal ended its five-year sponsorship of the event and until CN came on board, there were fears there would be no Canadian stop for the LPGA. CN's intervention was "desperately needed," Coe-Jones said.

"I only missed one Canadian Open. I was eight months pregnant. Even just that summer I missed playing in it dearly.

"I thought early this year the event might not happen. I couldn't imagine playing on tour without an event not happening in Canada. I speak for all Canadian professionals when I say getting an opportunity to play in our native country is like no other week on the tour.

"This will be an event the ladies on tour will not ever want to skip."

Every tournament organizer hopes to attract the Annika Sorenstams and Michelle Wies of the golfing world, but the LPGA is producing a number of other top young players such as Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Christina Kim and Morgan Pressel. The chance to win $255,000 in first-place money is a big carrot.

"I certainly don't see a reason why they shouldn't turn up," Coe-Jones said.

"The winner's share of the purse is ($255,000). If that isn't enough to entice people to play, nothing is. . . . Just looking at the players out there, it's an exciting time. This will increase the field strength immensely."

Coe-Jones is one of the Canadian ambassadors for the game.

"We petition, we beg," she said. "But now that we can go to them and say we have one of the top 10 purses on tour, it's going to be an easy sell for us. I'll be talking to all those young kids."

This year's tournament will also benefit from a schedule change. Previous years it was held the week before the Women's British Open. Many players would skip the Canadian event and head overseas.

Coe-Jones said it will be easier for players to decide to play here. She also sees no problems with the tournament being held in London, a mid-size city.

"In the last few years, we had trouble with the scheduling," she said. "But they'll come straight from the British Open direct into Toronto. I don't see an issue with travel at all this year.

"Personally, from 22 years of experience, the LPGA does great in smaller markets. We seem to be the only gig in town. If you look at Los Angeles, we seem to get lost in those cities. In the smaller venues, the entire community gets behind the event."

Rick Desrochers, chief operating officer of the Royal Canadian Golf Association, said the RCGA and CN extracted guarantees on dates from the LPGA. The increased purse was based on getting a date "that was not shouldered by a major on the LPGA tour in future years nor will it be up against a PGA major in future years."

The tournament was held at the Hunt Club in 1993 and was won by Brandie Burton. This course is a happy one for Coe-Jones, who calls it one of her favourites.

"I finished one shot out of a playoff in '93," she said. "I have wonderful memories of the golf course. I had one of my two double-eagles there, I believe on the fourth hole at London Hunt. There's lots of things to look forward to when I come back in August."

The chance for big money being just one of them.

Doug Alexander, a Hunt Club director and event co-chairperson, said the timing of the increased purse couldn't have been better. The club is having a "buyers' night" tomorrow for parties interested in tents, clubhouse tables and the pro-am event.

It's by invitation, but any business wanting to attend can e-mail lpga2006@london huntclub.on.ca.


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